Why Kristi Noem Is in the Doghouse

In April 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson was photographed lifting one of his beagles (he had two, named Him and Her) by the ears. The picture, published in Life magazine, caused widespread public outcry. Johnson apologized — and after leaving the White House released an EP called “Dogs Have Always Been My Friends.” But the episode became part of his legend and legacy.

The immediate political fallout, though, was minimal. Johnson won the 1964 presidential election in a landslide. There’s no indication that manhandling his dog helped him defeat Barry Goldwater, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt.

Kristi Noem is no L.B.J. The South Dakota governor, frequently mentioned as a potential running mate for Donald J. Trump, wrote in “No Going Back,” her just-published memoir, about shooting Cricket, her family’s 14-month-old German wirehair pointer. The criticism has been ferocious, including from within Noem’s party. Trump, whose non-love for dogs is well-documented, has expressed his revulsion, as has Mitt Romney, who dealt with a canine-mistreatment scandal of his own during the 2012 campaign.

Appearing on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Noem was unapologetic. She insisted that Cricket, whom she described in her book as an “untrainable” chicken-killer, got what was coming. More than that, she tried to reclaim political advantage by giving the issue a partisan, culture-war spin.

What about Joe Biden? Not that he’s a puppy killer. Quite the contrary: Noem criticized the president for not euthanizing — or just plain blowing away — Commander, a German shepherd and serial biter who has attacked, according to Noem, “24 Secret Service people.” “How many people is enough people to be attacked and dangerously hurt before you make a decision on a dog?” she said. In her book, she implies that, were she in the executive branch, she’d take out Biden’s dog herself: “Commander, say hello to Cricket for me.”

All of this has been portrayed as a career-detonating political blunder, a monumental failure to read the room, which in mid-2020s America is strewed with dismembered chew toys. We may not like one another all that much these days, but red or blue, MAGA or woke, we sure do love dogs.

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